King Charles, flanked by the equally ermined and bejewelled Queen Camilla delivered the first King’s Speech in some 70 years, laying out “his” government’s legislative agenda before the public finally get their say.
It was also Rishi Sunak’s first as prime minister. And given the polls, it’s probably his last too. Sunak said the 21 bills announced will make the UK “more prosperous, more innovative and more secure”. But not even Tories are buying that.
The next election must be held before January 2025. Time is running out for the governing party to claw back Labour’s long held 20 point lead. Conservative MPs in marginal seats are considering their post-politics futures. Historic results in recent byelections means even holders of safe seats are sweating.
They all desperately wanted something from the King’s Speech to suggest a way back is possible.
What they got was an environmentalist king announcing a bill that will issue new licences for oil and gas drilling annually as part of the “strengthening the economy” agenda laid out in the speech. That also includes, the king informed, bills to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership and protection for consumers from rip-off fees.
“Strengthening society” was another theme which will see legislation for a football regulator, protection for renters from eviction and reform of the leasehold system.
The “keeping people safe” section includes an eyebrow raising Investigatory Powers bill giving police power to raid properties without warrants if they suspect there’s stolen property ie. mobile phones within.
There will be tougher sentences too, but only for the criminals who will be locked up. For them the sloganeering “life means life”. But for those sentenced to less than a year, jail will be replaced by community work, curfews, tags, scrubbing graffiti and cleaning streets. As was featured on the front pages last month.
Continuing with the “heard it all before/nothing new” theme, the king said there will be bills to introduce tougher measures on smoking such as the phased ban on tobacco sales. Smaller transport projects will be replacing the scrapped HS2 northern links, as told to the Tory party conference in Manchester.
There was no suggestion or hint, never mind any promise of any tax cuts was mentioned to buoy Tory MPs. Remember, their government has raised taxes to the highest levels endured for 75 years. And what is there to show for it? Apart from a cost of living crisis, crumbling public services, a divided society and foul stink of corruption.
In all, the King’s Speech unveiled 21 new bills. That’s the fewest in any such speech by King or Queen for a decade. No wonder Labour called it “threadbare”.
While Sunak claimed it shows he is taking “long-term decisions to build a brighter future for our country”, back in the Commons, Sir Keir Starmer told MPs the Tories “are not even pretending to govern anymore”.
The Tory party has reached a “new low”, the Labour leader said, and reduced itself to the “desperate spectacle of claiming it offers change away from itself”.
“Today’s address,” Starmer said, “shows just how ridiculous that posturing is because what we have before us is a plan for more of the same, more sticking plasters, more division, more party first, country second gimmicks and no repudiation of the utterly discredited idea that economic growth is something the few hand down to the many.
“In fact today we reach something of a new low because they are not even pretending to govern anymore.
“They have given up on any sense of service. They see our country’s problems as something to be exploited, not solved.”
Gordon Rayner – associate editor of the Conservative-supporting Telegraph – was equally unimpressed giving his verdict under the headline: “Rishi Sunak needs something superhuman to win the election – this King’s Speech wasn’t it”.
The PM “wants to convince the public he is the change candidate but his first King’s Speech served up meagre rations of innovation and large helpings of more of the same,” Rayner writes.
He said Sunak lacked conviction on the two commonalities of successful election campaigns: “a story that tells voters their lives are about to improve, and a promise that they will be better off financially.”
A more optimistic outlook for the Tories and Sunak is provided by Janet Daley, writing in the same newspaper, arguing under a headline: “Rational Rishi is bringing Britain back to common sense”.
Daley writes: “The King’s Speech could be a way back to electoral viability, but the Tories will have to hold the line”.
However, readers responding ‘below-the-line’ were not persuaded: “How did you write this without laughing?” asked Nathaniel Mender. Warren Alexander suggested a different headline: “Weak as Water Sunak Delivers Dampest of Damp Squibs – Tories Set to be Wiped Out at Next Election.”
The Telegraph is so staunchly Conservative it is also known as the ‘Torygraph’. It will be galling then for Sunak and his MPs that the most liked comment under Daley’s piece says the “only hope” is “the rise of a new party.” Tony Moore even calls on the government to: “Please carry on with the policies that have created economic decline, social fragmentation, cultural and moral degeneracy, and political disenfranchisement please. That way, the goal is open and wide for an incomer to make the Tories obsolete.”